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Blog Post · November 3, 2020

Election Day and California’s Future

photo - I Voted Today Stickers and the US Flag

It’s Election Day, and Californians are very eager to join voters across the nation in choosing a path to a better future. In a year of unprecedented crises, the most important issues on Californians’ minds include COVID-19, the economy, global warming, housing affordability, homelessness, and wildfires, according to the October PPIC survey. Most Californians also say that racism is a national problem today, including a criminal justice system that does not treat people equally regardless of race, according to the July PPIC survey. This year, a confluence of surprising events has led to a unique moment when Californians are expressing great interest in making decisions about their leaders and laws through the power of the ballot box.

The latest statistics from the California Secretary of State point to the most state voters in history (22 million)—about 2.6 million more than in the 2016 presidential election—and the highest percentage of eligible Californians registered to vote in the past 80 years (88%). For the first time, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, all registered voters were sent a vote-by-mail ballot and, as of this writing, about 12 million ballots have been cast by mail or in person. California appears on course to set modern-day records for the number of votes cast and voter turnout.

California’s decision to provide mail-in ballots for all registered voters was the right choice in the eyes of the electorate. Seventy-three percent of likely voters said this was a good idea in the May PPIC survey. Six in ten likely voters say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the system in which votes are cast and counted in California elections—up substantially from the four in ten  who held this positive view in the September 2019 PPIC Survey. As other states struggle with their voting systems, only about two in ten Californians express very little confidence in their state’s voting system.

In what many describe as the most consequential election in their lifetime, 72% of likely voters are more enthusiastic about voting in this presidential election—a record high in PPIC surveys. Before the last presidential election, 49% were more enthusiastic, according to the October 2016 PPIC survey. Today, solid majorities of likely voters are more enthusiastic about voting in this presidential election across partisan groups (79% Democrats, 74% Republicans, 59% independents). Majorities across traditionally under-represented groups are more enthusiastic about voting this year, and this may help to close the significant gaps in age, income, and race/ethnicity between voters and nonvoters long noted in PPIC reports.

California is a blue state with little drama about the outcome at the top of the ticket. There has been scant movement in the presidential race this year and few voters are undecided in these hyper-partisan times. Nonetheless, voters of all political stripes do not want to miss their chance to weigh in as they have closely watched this race throughout a tumultuous year. Californians’ determination to have a voice in the presidential outcome will have ripple effects for a handful of competitive down-ballot races for congressional, state senate and assembly seats and, importantly, on state and local ballot measures.

Californians will be making major policy decisions as they vote on 12 state propositions on the ballot—ranging from stem cell research bonds (Proposition 14) to replacing money bail (Proposition 25). Six in ten likely voters say that they are satisfied with the way that the initiative process is working today—despite having deep reservations about the outsized role of special interests, the number of state propositions, and the complexity of citizens’ initiatives that are on the ballot. Decisions on these state propositions are especially fraught at a time when many have a pessimistic outlook on the state and the nation. For anyone in need of last-minute help on ballot choices, solid nonpartisan information is available in the state’s voter guide.

PPIC is keeping a close eye on the election outcome and will be exploring its implications in PPIC blog posts and in upcoming PPIC Statewide Surveys. Until then, stay safe and vote!


bail coronavirus COVID-19 elections global warming homelessness housing Political Landscape racism Statewide Survey vote-by-mail voter turnout voters wildfires